In a recent Mahwah Town Council meeting, the primary focus was on potential adjustments to the town’s water and sewer rates, addressing concerns about sustainability due to rising costs and long-standing rate structures. The implications of these adjustments and their impact on specific demographics, particularly senior citizens, were also hotly debated.
About 12-13 years have passed since the last adjustment to the town’s water rates. With an average inflation rate of 3.82% from 2018-2022, set to rise to 4.64% next year, the council expressed deep concerns about the water and sewer fund balance, which has been declining since 2015. While several rate adjustment options were proposed by the auditor, an alternative suggestion aimed for tiered increases based on cubic feet usage. For context, around 98% of Mahwah consumers use less than 10,000 cubic feet of water. The new proposal encompasses a 7% rate increase after an initial flat raise, ultimately leading to a cumulative 32% increase over three years. However, this proposal led to moments of confusion among attendees, particularly about the difference between the proposed 7% and the cumulative 32% increase.
Adding to the debate, the potential impact on senior citizens became a focal point. New Jersey offers tax reliefs to seniors, but increases in water and sewer rates wouldn’t be rebated. This could make it more costly for many seniors, especially those who benefit from tax freezes but might not be eligible for utility assistance.
Concerning the potential sale of the town’s water utility, comparisons were made with Allendale, which sold its water company to Veolia in 2021. Some council members argued in favor of retaining the town’s infrastructure, while others pointed out that private utilities would still require Board of Public Utilities (BPU) approval for rate hikes. This regulation does not bind the town, offering more flexibility in rate-setting.
Other developments at the meeting touched upon the town’s landscaping efforts, the LED light project, challenges with Orange & Rockland Utilities, and updates on various infrastructure projects, including the warehouse on MacArthur Boulevard. The council also addressed administrative items, such as joining a cooperative purchasing program, payment issues for the DPW building, and tax reductions for a specific property.
Residents also had the opportunity to voice their opinions, with discussions ranging from gun safety education to the financial health of the Water and Sewer Department and plans for the local high school. The council and Mayor Jim Wysocki concluded the meeting by acknowledging various community members, township employees, and first responders for their dedication and service.